Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cincinnati's Fight To Protect The Rights of All

On March 15th the city council of Cincinnati, Ohio, in a vote of 8 to 1, extended the city's human rights legislation to include homosexual and transgender people. The city has been in a fight to produce a complete human rights policy since 1991 with none other than James Dobson's Focus On The Family, and the surrogates he employs. Unfortunately, it's not over yet.

The city's human rights ordinance protects people from that type of discrimination based on race, gender, age, color, religion, disability status, marital status or ethnic, national or Appalachian regional origin. The change to that ordinance, effective next month, adds "sexual orientation or transgendered status" to those protected categories.

"By passing this ordinance, we are saying as a city that discrimination of any kind against anyone will not be tolerated," Councilwoman Laketa Cole said earlier.
The sole dissenting vote was not in opposition to the idea. Councilman Chris Monzel had proposed rewiting the human rights ordinance to ban discrimination against any human being.

If all this seems a little late in coming to Cincinnati, it is. Cincinnati had added sexual orientation to the text of their equal opportunity employment policy in 1991 and in 1992 passed a Human Rights Ordinance making it illegal to discriminate against anyone, including gays and lesbians.

Then along came a group known as Equal Rights Not Special Rights, who organized a campaign to have the city charter amended to prohibit the enactment of any law granting special preferential treatment based on sexual orientation. Known as "Issue 3", it passed with 64% in favor. The ordinance was sent to a District Judge, where it was declared unconstitutional and subsequently to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th District where the ordinance was upheld and the lower court was overturned. Cincinnati city council was forced to remove "sexual orientation" from their, now complete, human rights policy by introducing Article XII to the city charter, an odious piece of policy that openly discriminates against gay, lesbians and transgenders.

In 1996 the US Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans stuck down Colorado's Amendment 2, which would have amended the state constitution to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas dissented. Go figure). In addition the Supreme Court instructed the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reconsider its previous decision on Issue 3. The court heard arguments and upheld its 1994 decision. Cincinnati became the only city in the United States to entrench discrimination based on sexual orientation in a city charter.

In 2004, spearheaded by Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, a new Issue 3 appeared on the November ballot, asking that city council be given the authority to repeal Article XII. It passed with a margin of 54%. On March 15th this year Article XII was repealed and the language was changed in the city's human rights policy to eliminate discrimination against gays.

Now a group from outside Cincinnati, the same group that provided the organization for Equal Rights Not Special Rights in the 1993 Issue 3 campaign and which fought against the 2004 campaign to repeal Article XII, is organizing to put the whole issue back on the November 2006 ballot. Citizens for Community Values, a front organization for Dobson's, Focus On The Family, and led by Phil Burress, is busy collecting enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum.

In the last referendum, the repeal issue, the Columbus -based CCV and RNSR spent $1.5 million on their unsuccessful campaign. The campaign in favor of repealing Article XII spent just over $1 million. As Cincinnati lawyer Scott Knox says:

...all because a few people from beyond our city limits want to tell Cincinnatians to discriminate against our neighbors, sons and daughters.
And all because Big Daddy Dobson would rather you starve in a gutter or some other lifelong punishment he extracts from his unbelievably warped version of Christian morality.

Burress has 30 days to collect 7,654 signatures to get a question on the ballot that would either affirm or reject Cincinnati city council's decision. CCV vice-president has Gary Wright has stated that they have a strategy but referred all calls to Burress - who hasn't been returning calls.

Equality Cincinnati has vowed to defend the ordinance. As heartening as that is, it is more than disturbing that, once again, they have to expend huge amounts of money and energy, that could easily be put to better use, to defend what is already entrenched in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Hopefully the good citizens of Cincinnati will reject the likes of Dobson and Burress and send them back to their squalid holes.

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